When a Tahlequah Marine came back to town Wednesday afternoon, he was showered in community spirit.
American flags waved, firetruck horns honked, and observers cheered along Grand Avenue in front of Locke Supply. It was a homecoming, and family reunion when Staff Sgt. Marine Luke Osborne arrived to see cheering family, friends and veterans to welcome him. Tears flowed down many cheeks.
In spite of temperatures over 90 degrees and high humidity, a crowd gathered for the memorable occasion.
"He's coming now!" said Osborne's aunt, Vickie Benningfield, his mom's sister. "We finally get to see him and be with him. He's our sweetheart!"
Mom Susan Osborne-Rider was crying and laughing at the same time.
"It's a relief; he won't have to leave again. I won't have to say goodbye and wonder when I'll see him again," said Osborne-Rider. "He won't miss any holidays and family reunions."
She also looks forward to catching up and learning about his military service - and who he is as an adult.
"There was never enough time before. Now there is," she said.
Among the group was Osborne's 96-years-old World War II veteran grandfather, George E. "Gene" Hamlin.
"It's like a holiday. It make me feel up in the air," said Hamlin.
Stepson Logan Hopkins held up a "Welcome Home" poster made at school, as did sister Megan Hopkins.
"My mom's missed her husband, and he's finally going to be here," she said.
Taking pictures on the roadside was Stephanie Hair, who also took wedding photos last year.
"This is a special day," said Hair. "I'm happy to be here."
From the Cherokee Nation Veterans Affairs office, former Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden, along with Hominy Littledave, and Barbara Foreman, also held a welcome banner and took a few minutes to speak with the young soldier.
"We got an invite and heard about what was happening," said Crittenden. "When a son comes home from the service, either peace time or war, we're glad they're home and wish them well in future endeavors."
All smiles, wife Jacquelynn Osborne watched as so many people greeted her husband.
"It's exciting and I'm thankful to have him home," she said.
They've known each other 16 years, but they married last April. She most appreciates his honesty and family values.
"I look forward to being able to do things as a family and have him around for the kids, soccer games on Saturday, and church on Sunday. That's a big part of us," she said.
The reunion for the couple began last week when she flew to Norfolk, Virginia, to drive home with him. She was also on the phone with his friend and firefighter, Zack Frazier, as they planned the Wednesday night celebration.
"We were coordinating all the details, but I couldn't let Luke hear," she said of the homecoming surprise.
Osborne added, "Zack was the first friend I made when me moved here when I was in fourth grade."
It was beginning to seem less surreal to the returning soldier as the celebration continued.
"It's like I've been on leave, but this is a culminating moment, like it's real," he said.
Happy to be back home, he looks forward to spending time with his wife, kids and family.
"I'm most looking forward to time at home," Osborne said.
In the Marines, he worked in computer information technology and recruiting.
"I have marketing and sales experience, too," he said. "I know I have a career, work to think about, but for now, I'm just enjoying being home."
Mother-in-law Vickie Wilson said she was so overwhelmed with all the people showing up to welcome Luke.
"It's so wonderful everybody showed up. I'm glad for Luke and Jacquelynn," said Wilson. "I'm glad they can be together and wish them a happy future."
Father-in-law Don L. Wilson prayed before everyone was served cake and finger food.
"I'm looking forward to my son-in-law being in the same household as my daughter. It's been tough on them, so it's been tough on me," he said. "And I'm as patriotic as the next guy, so to have a son-in-law who served 16 years, I'm very proud of him."
A cousin to Jacquelynn, Barbara Dotson helped set up food for the party.
"I grew up overseas. My parents were Department of Defense teachers, so military has always played a vital part of my life. So having a Marine in the family is exciting," said Dotson. "Our family is so big, and having him in her life to lean on and the kids having a positive role model, there's nothing else like that."